Passages | iHanuman


Love, Service, Devotion, Yoga


Have you been in a class at Willow Street where your teacher set the theme of the class as "change"? In our practice of yoga, we experience change in many ways, from the mat to what we take from the mat into our daily lives. Whether planned or unexpected, change permeates the flow of life. Change is the one thing we can count on.
It was early in January 1994 when I opened the doors of Willow Street Yoga Center. We were actually on Willow Street back then, on the DC side of Takoma Park-on the second floor of the long sand-colored building where Arise used to be, across from CVS. We crammed as many as 25 students into our one small studio on the second floor. There were just four other teachers beside myself. My office was the size of a small closet! Two of my favorite things about that first location were our windows with breezy lace curtains that you could open, and our neighbors directly below us-a French bakery and chocolate shop that sold fresh croissants and other delights. I used to teach on Saturday mornings back then, and what a treat it was to smell the wafting aroma of rich chocolate all the way up those rather dingy stairs! My husband John gave me a surprise 50th birthday party in that studio in October of our first year which almost knocked my yoga socks off. Perhaps some of you remember it.
In the 10+ years that I had been in Maryland before opening Willow Street, I taught in several places. I began with small classes in my home in Silver Spring, and taught my first "public" classes in the mid-80's at Spa Lady on Georgia Ave. I taught in churches, schools and students' homes. I even introduced yoga classes to my 6th and 8th grade girls, and the nuns as well, at Stone Ridge Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, where I taught Physical Education and coached for five years. (WSYC teacher, Susana Crespo, was one of my students.)
The cliché about time flying is more than true. It seems the older I get, the faster it flies. By the time you read this, I will have celebrated my "Medicare birthday". I am reminded of the yogic truth that everything changes, all is temporal, nothing is permanent-except of course the unchanging, eternal aspect of Consciousness, which in yogic terminology we call Being. I've seen Willow Street grow from 160 students that first Winter Session in 1994, to almost 2000 students. How did this happen, I ask? I worked hard, yes, but for the most part, it didn't seem like work. Somehow the most amazing teachers and staff found us, and most of the time it was a "fit." I had great support from family, friends and students.
It was a joy to have two of my four children become Anusara Certified teachers. My son Joe came to Maryland for a visit, in 1999 in a beat up old VW van on his way to the Florida Keys and never left! He had already completed his Kripalu Yoga Certification and soon began teaching at Willow Street. Before long, he began studying Anusara and subsequently earned his Anusara Certification in 2004. In 2001, my daughter Kate moved here from NYC, joined our faculty and earned her Anusara Certification. Kate created our very popular current Anusara Immersion Program and contributed to Willow Street's growth in many important ways. I feel immensely proud and doubly blessed that both Joe and Kate have made such a difference in so many students' lives through their ability to teach from their hearts and sincere desire to help others.
This universal support continues to be truly never ending. Consciousness speaks and flows and remembers Itself in each other, you and me, just for the joy of it. Isn't that the wildest and most beautiful thing ever? I know a major part of our growth was finding Anusara Yoga soon after we opened and the great dedication and devotion of John Friend in helping me blossom as a teacher. He remains my great friend and mentor today, and continues to be the main inspiration for all of our teachers. My decision to make Willow Street an Anusara- pecialized studio was, I have no doubt, a pivotal factor in our success.
I've seen extraordinary changes in so many of my students, as well as profound changes in my own consciousness through the transformative power of Anusara Yoga. It's been a journey with nothing short of Grace accompanying me all the way. From the time I taught my first yoga class in 1981 on an Air Force Base in Fayetteville, NC, I knew then as I know now that this was my dharma, and Grace has blessed my path to love, serve and remember.
And so now I stand on the threshold of yet another transition. The yoga scriptures tell us there are four stages of life. Each of these is divided into 21-25 years. They are: Student (Brahmacharya), Householder (Grahasta), Forest dweller or Hermit (Vanaprastha) and Renunciate (Sanyasa).
My student and householder phases have overlapped for much of my life. I was certainly a formal student for a long time, getting married after two years of college, having babies, and finally finishing college a few years after most of my friends. And I have continued in my studentship in my practice of yoga for all these years. I continue to be a householder, with a wonderful partner of nearly 23 years, four children from my first husband, and two cats. As a householder, I have all the responsibilities and challenges we all meet in daily life. This phase is said to be a time of giving, living, learning and serving in family and community. Spiritual practices are done often in service to others.
Now the forest dweller or Hermitage phase is another story! Although I totally love nature in all Her forms, and have done a vision quest or two, and many, many spiritual retreats, I wouldn't quite consider myself a "forest dweller". However, I do think it corresponds to the Wisdom Traditions which tell us that as we evolve, we learn in ways of the heart and intuition rather than from books and other teachers. Our center of "seeing" is opened and we wake up and grow in Spirit. It is a time of more inward focus and deeper spiritual practices. Relationships with grown children and community are more in the role of a mentor-hopefully with wisdom to share. Lifestyle is simplified, and the partners may retreat to a quieter place (often known as retirement!)
In the last phase, (Renunciate or Sanyasa), the elder retreats from active involvement in all worldly goals and seeks only spiritual goals in this final phase-goes to the "cave" so to speak! I can't quite imagine this last phase, and in our Tantric tradition, I'm not sure it exists except as a metaphor for an increase in awareness of the Divine permeating all of life.
Personally, I like people too much and I can't imagine ever not teaching yoga, even if it means "walker" yoga. But, the time is certainly coming when I do want to have more time for some deeper practice, to release more responsibility in order to enjoy nature and other pursuits I have put on hold, and to share some trips and adventures with John.
So here's what we've decided. By January of 2012, my son Joe Miller, and his awesome wife Natalie Miller, will take over the ownership and directorship of Willow Street Yoga Center. I have all the faith in the world in Joe's amazing visionary ideas, his ability to reach out to students, and his talents as an extraordinary teacher. Natalie is also an amazingly gifted teacher, with an art and skill for language and communication. She has a great "business head" and has done an outstanding job as our registrar, marketing liaison, workshop scheduler and assisting me with many and various duties. Between now and then, they will each take on increasing responsibilities at Willow Street, preparing them for the day when they fully take the reins.
I am confident that their combined abilities will continue to grow and expand Willow Street,providing a strong, safe, committed, powerful, and loving community for all who walk through our doors. I know Joe and Natalie both hold the same fundamental vision for what the Willow Street community should be that I have held for all these years. I am delighted it will remain a "family business". I hope you're as excited by our decision as we are.
I won't be disappearing into the forest or cave. I plan to still teach four or five classes a week, do some workshops, and remain Director of the Yoga Teacher Training Program. John and I eventually plan to move to Oxford on the Eastern Shore for our "forest dweller stage". We have no hard and fast timeline for this, and we trust that all will unfold as is meant to.
So please, welcome this change as it unfolds over the next couple of years, and give all your support and love to Joe and Natalie. I'll still be here and will do my best to continue to pass on the great traditions of Anusara Yoga at Willow Street as smoothly and effectively as possible.
With Great Love and Thanks for everything each of you brings to Willow Street,
Namaste, Suzie


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